After moving joint top of La Liga at the weekend, attention switches to the Copa del Rey as Atlético Madrid look to seal their passage to the last 16 against Reus on Thursday evening.
The red and whites have a 2-1 lead from the first leg earlier in the month, and will most likely use their last home game of the year to give some of the fringe players a chance to impress.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón is set for 20:00 CET.
On an unbeaten run of 14 matches that stretches back to September – and having won their last eight in a row – Atleti are on a roll, and will want to keep their momentum going as the festive period approaches.
With Barcelona not in league action this weekend due to their Club World Cup involvement, the red and whites have the chance to be outright leaders on Christmas day, but have business to attend to first in the form of Segunda B side Reus.
As Simeone says time and time again, the team never looks past the next game and so right now, focus will solely be on tomorrow’s clash rather than the trip to Málaga on Sunday. Partido a partido.
The Argentine boss has named a strong squad as well, with only Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godín, Juanfran and Filipe Luís given the night off from the first team.
Jackson Martínez remains on the sidelines despite returning to full training on Tuesday, along with long term absentee Tiago. Unlike in the first leg, no canteranos are involved.
We could see the likes of Lucas Hernández and Thomas Partey get a rare start, as well as Ángel Correa, who has seen his minutes limited in recent weeks. Fernando Torres, still chasing his 100th goal for the club, could also play.
In his press conference, Cholo was keen to underline to his game at a time approach, dismissing all title talk and paying maximum respect to the visiting side.
“We’ve followed a line for four and half a half years and we’re not going to change it,” he said. “We always think the same way, in the present, focusing on the main goal of the club which is to keep improving year on year.”
“Tomorrow we’ll play with everything we have, as always. Historically we’re a cup team, it’s a competition we have a lot of respect for and our aim is to qualify. I see the tie as tight, rather than on track. Anything can happen on a football pitch.”
Atleti haven’t always had things their own way at this stage of the Copa in previous years, particularly in the home leg. Last year we were held 2-2 by L’Hospitalet, and of course, Albacete knocked us out in 2011 to end Gregorio Manzano’s second spell in charge.
Despite needing at least two goals to stand any chance of advancing, Reus come to the Calderón with nothing to lose and in good form, leading Group 3 of Segunda B by three points and on unbeaten run of their own in the league.
Unlike in previous years, neither side knows who they will face in the next round should they go through, although one thing that is for certain is that it won’t be Real Madrid.
As you’ve probably heard by now, los Blancos were removed from the tournament for fielding Denis Cheryshev against Cádiz a couple of weeks ago, when the Russian winger should have been serving a one-match ban.
For many teams this adds an extra incentive, as with one of the big favourites out of the picture there is a chance for an outsider to go on a run and perhaps even stake a claim for some silverware.
Reus can draw inspiration from Mirandés run to the semi-finals in 2012, and Atleti, who have played their local rivals in the cup for four of the last five years, will be expected to go far as the bookies’ second favourites behind Barcelona.
Whoever does go through will have to prepare for a very busy start to the new year, with games taking more or less every week throughout January. The draw for the last 16 takes place this coming Friday.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Siqueira, Savic, Gámez, Lucas, Giménez
Midfielders: Koke, Óliver, Gabi, Saúl, Thomas, Carrasco
Forwards: Torres, Correa, Vietto